'We Have a Deal': Student Rally in Lansing Ends in Victory for Michigan Tuition Grant
On Wednesday, Dec. 4, Cornerstone University students attended Student Action Day in Lansing, Mich., a rally to restore the Michigan Tuition Grant for private colleges. Later that night, legislators on the Senate floor struck a tentative deal for a new budget and reinstatement of the grant.
In October 2019, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer line-item vetoed over 100 items from the Michigan legislature’s proposed budget, including funds for the Michigan Tuition Grant (MTG) which provided about $3.8 million to students at private colleges statewide. This came after presidents from private colleges, including Cornerstone’s President Joe Stowell, met legislators at the capitol in mid-September to discuss the importance of the grant.
“Our presence at an event like this is important because it keeps decision-makers in our state aware of our school and what we contribute to the well-being of our state,” Stowell said after the September event.
A Looming Threat to Student Aid
Before Wednesday’s rally and likely resolution, many financial components were uncertain for Cornerstone students. The MTG provides aid to about half of the 96% of Cornerstone students who receive tuition assistance. Time was of the essence for these students when it came to restoring the grant—otherwise, they faced owing thousands of additional out-of-pocket dollars for the Fall 2019 semester.
“This is an odyssey that has prolonged itself throughout the fall and into the winter,” said Bob Sack, vice president of advancement at Cornerstone University, before the rally. “We want students and parents to know that CU is a resolute advocate for this important piece of financial aid for students.”
Wednesday’s rally, organized by Michigan Independent Colleges and Universities (MICU), was in response to Gov. Whitmer’s veto. Students from 26 colleges around the state spoke to legislators, sat in on a Senate meeting and gave their testimonies on the capitol steps.
‘Fix the Dany MTG’
During the rally, CU students met with one Democratic representative, two Republican representatives and one Republican senator to discuss the importance of the MTG for their education. These legislators included Representative Scott VanSingel (R), an alumnus of PGS and chairman of the Higher Education Committee in the House of Representatives.
MacKenzie Knoll (B.A. ’21), a publishing student at Cornerstone, brought a sign that featured a simple phrase—”Fix the dang MTG,” a tongue-in-cheek reference to one of Gov. Whitmer’s campaign slogans about fixing Michigan’s roads.
“My sign became a hashtag people were using on social media,” Knoll said. “A lot of the signs were about giving us money; our sign was more like ‘give back what was promised.'”
Jordan Grooters (B.S. ’17, M.B.A. ’19), an alumna of Cornerstone who also serves as communications coordinator, attended with the students. She was grateful after the meeting for the opportunity to talk to legislators and learn more about the process of creating a state budget.
“We met with lawmakers and discussed the importance of private higher education,” Grooters said. “Private colleges are actually cheaper for the government because they don’t require federal funding.”
She was also impressed by the students at the rally and the stories they shared. “One student was from a single-parent household and had outstanding medical bills,” Grooters said. “He talked about the importance of this funding for his situation.”
Other students, including Knoll, faced similar problems. “When I first heard the news, my initial thoughts were, ‘How can I fit in more hours of work? How will I be able to save this money?'” Knoll said. “For some students, it was a question as to whether or not they drop out.”
A Much-Needed Resolution
Thankfully, the efforts of students from Cornerstone and other private colleges were not in vain. On late Wednesday night, the MTG was tentatively reinstated into the budget on the Senate floor.
Students and leadership at Cornerstone are extremely grateful to legislators for pushing this bill through. On Wednesday night, Grooters received an email from Robert Lefevre, president of MICU. The subject was four simple words—”We have a deal.”
Knoll was hesitant to believe the news. “We had constantly heard ‘cautiously optimistic,’ so we were hesitant to believe the representatives. But I got an email from Representative Lyn Afendoulis confirming that yes, a deal had been reached.”
The bill passed unanimously in the Senate and almost unanimously in the House of Representatives. It may be slightly modified next week when it is signed by Gov. Whitmer, but legislators on both sides of the aisle are confident that the budget battle is coming to an end.
“While this does not restore all of the governor’s vetoes and transfers,” Senate Appropriations Chair Jim Stamas told The Bridge, “it is a good first step in the right direction.”